Smell Something Fishy? The Facts about Fish Oil Supplements

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) and high omega 3 levels are absolutely essential for optimum health and performance. 

Did you know:

  • That despite what you’ve heard, the human body needs fat to function properly?  No cell, tissue, gland or organ can work normally without adequate and balanced levels of essential fats.
  • That essential fatty acid levels contribute to improved performance by reducing inflammation, increasing endurance and shortening recovery time?  They also work to protect the joints and promote deeper sleep, better concentration and a more positive mental outlook.
  • That there are two distinctly different kinds of fats?  Eating healthful fats will increase your overall performance and well-being; eating unhealthy fats will result in health and performance declines.
  • That the vast majority of Americans consume too few omega 3 fats and too many processed omega 6 fats?  As a population, our EFA levels are severely imbalanced.

Want to improve your essential fatty acid levels?


Then choose to eat only grass-fed meat, range-free eggs, wild cold-water salmon, sardines, salmon eggs, and seeds such as pumpkin, chia and hemp.  If your goal is to achieve optimal EFA and omega 3 levels, you’ll probably need to use an oil-based supplement, too.  

When it comes to selecting a supplement, there are plenty of choices available—flax seed oil, cod liver oil; krill oil, green mussel oil and high EPA or DHA fish oils; and essential oil blends like Udo’s Oil.

Which product should you choose? 

Each one provides a differing dose and number of servings per bottle. And the range of costs can be huge, leaving even the most educated customer overwhelmed and apt to default to buy the least expensive product or rationing their intake of a higher-priced formula. There is a better way! 

It is possible to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of any essential fatty acid product by simply asking the following three questions:

  1. 1. Is the product free of chemicals and pollutants?  

And is a certificate of purity available for each product lot available?  While almost every fish oil product on the market claims to be chemical-free, this is not always the case. In fact, the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation recently tested 15% of fish oil supplements on the market finding harmful PCBs in all of them. Some of the world’s largest producers of omega-3 fish oil supplements, including the drug store giants Rite Aid and CVS, are selling potentially toxic products.   

When selecting a fish oil supplement, do not compromise when it comes to purity. If each and every lot of the product has not been independently tested for mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and other toxins by a certified lab, it may be tainted by heavy metals and/or other dangerous toxins

  1. 2. How was the oil processed?  

Fish oil is highly unstable product. It can be damaged quickly by exposure to air, light and heat.  Most supplement manufacturers use heat and chemicals (usually hexane) in their production process (in order to create a product that can sit on a shelf for months without spoiling).  Unfortunately, this type of processing exposes the fragile oils to oxygen, metals, light and heat, which oxidizes (damages) them while creating a toxic by-product (called a pro-oxidative fat). While most fish oil producers remove many of the oxidized by-products before selling them, their clean-up process is never really enough.  While some add vitamin E to prevent the oils from being harmed by further oxidation, most use alpha-tocopherol—a cheaper, and much-less-effective antioxidant. 

What happens to a fish oil that’s not processed or protected properly?  It becomes more than ineffective, it becomes harmful. When oxidized, fish oil converts into lipid peroxides which can damage the membranes of every cell in the body.  Recent research conducted by the New Zealand Crop & Food Research Institute indicates that many fish oil samples contain oxidation by-products, despite being well within their “sell by” date. Keep in mind that a fish oil will smell rancid only during its latest stages of oxidization; during its initial breakdown, it may have no aroma but will still be less than fit for consumption.  

If the fish oil you have purchased is not refrigerated, is not in a nitrogen-packed glass bottle or blister pack, does not contain potent antioxidants (such as vitamin E/tocopherol or rosemary) or is in an enteric coated capsule, know that it may already be rancid and harmful to your health.

  1. 3. Does the product provide enough essential fatty acids?

The dosing of many fish oil supplements requires 6 or more capsules daily to be effective in restoring and/or raising the body’s omega 3 levels.  While krill and green-mussel oils are both well-absorbed by the body, they do not provide it with sufficient amounts of omega 3 fats.   

Taking a few capsules of fish oil does not insure a healthy essential fatty acid status. Dosing and individual absorption variations will affect your body’s ability to utilize these fats.

After using any fish oil supplement for three months, it will be important to assess your essential fatty acid levels (which can be done at home with a simple and painless finger stick) to confirm that your dose is correct and your essential fatty acid levels are increasing.

The no-questions-needed solution

AlaskOmega and Pharmax are some of the very few companies using a natural, low oxidation process to refine their fish oils. These formulas contain oils that have not be altered by chemicals, light or heat significantly increasing its bioavailability (ability to be used by the body). This product is more effective because it is absorbed easily and completely. 

In fact, human studies have shown a dramatic decrease in lipid oxidation and DNA damage in subjects using 1—3 grams of these fish oil for just a few weeks. 

In addition, these oils have been independently tested for freshness and purity. The company offers a certificate of purity for each and every lot it produces.  

 Addition benefits include:

  • No fishy after taste or burping
  • Because the product is highly-absorbable and offers balanced amounts of EPA and DHA, reliable restoration can be achieved with the use of only three to four capsules daily. 

So just as you wouldn’t opt for the cheapest wines, know that opting for “off the shelf” bargain priced fish oil not only will not provide the benefits you desire but very possibly those that you are trying to avoid.